Some familiar names have cropped up in one set of Hennepin County campaigns this fall.

Longtime Minnetonka city manager and former state finance commissioner John Gunyou is running for Three Rivers Park District commissioner.

So is former Hennepin County commissioner Penny Steele, in a neighboring district.

The commissioner job pays $927 a month to set policy and oversee finances for the huge Three Rivers park system, mostly in suburban Hennepin County.

It includes 21 parks, park reserves and special areas, 15 trails and an annual operating budget of about $47 million.

The Three Rivers board has five commissioners elected from geographic districts and two commissioners appointed by the Hennepin County Board.

Normally the commissioners serve staggered four-year terms, but because of redistricting, all five of the district commissioners are up for election in 2012, with Districts 1, 3 and 5 slated for four-year terms and Districts 2 and 4 for two-year terms.

The races are nonpartisan and do not include Minneapolis, which has its own city park system and board.

Maintaining excellence

Gunyou is running in District 4, which includes the city of Minnetonka, a number of cities along the southern and eastern borders of Lake Minnetonka, Edina, Hopkins and part of Richfield.

He retired last June after 11 years as Minnetonka's city manager but jumped into the Three Rivers race before he had left office.

Gunyou said he and his family always have loved the outdoors, and Three Rivers parks and trails are excellent.

"The biggest challenge is, how do you maintain the high level of quality services that residents have come to expect in an era where things are tighter?" he said.

High on Gunyou's list is how to provide more park services for an aging population and how to pull together local, metro and state resources to keep the parks financially viable.

Running against Gunyou is Leigh Harrod, an avid park user, geologist and political novice who is currently a senior environmental scientist at the Metropolitan Council.

Harrod said her 30-year career of managing natural resources in both the public and private sector makes her well-qualified for the job.

That experience has involved coordinating partnerships between government agencies, she said, and sharing funding.

Harrod also serves on Excelsior's Charter Commission and helped to craft a proposed city amendment for financial planning and budget reporting.

"I'm concerned that sometimes government can get carried away if it's spending other people's money," she said.

The Park District needs to look hard at its budget to avoid overextending itself, Harrod said.

Doing more with less

Penny Steele is challenging incumbent Sara Wyatt in District 1, which includes Plymouth, Wayzata and much of the western half of the county.

Steele was a Hennepin County Commissioner from 1994 to 2008, when she did not seek reelection. During that time she served on many metropolitan joint powers organizations and also has been a small business owner and music teacher.

Steele said she has a record of reforming government and being a watchdog for taxpayers. Her number one issue for the Park District is "how to do more with less in this difficult economy."

Wyatt has served on the Three Rivers Board since 2007, and she said her highest priority is "providing great parks for you and your children while keeping taxes low."

Wyatt said she is committed to free access to parks, strong recreation programs, and protecting natural resources from pollution and invasive species.

She stressed her experience in guiding Three Rivers successfully through a bad economy during the past few years.

Jennifer DeJournett is running against Rick Theisen in District 2. Incumbent Marilynn Corcoran was eliminated in the August primary.

Daniel Freeman and Matthew Laue are running for an open seat in District 3 after incumbent Joan Peters decided not to run again.

And John Gibbs is running unopposed in District 5, which includes Eden Prairie and Bloomington.

Board Chairman Larry Blackstad will continue on the board. His four-year appointment does not expire until the end of 2014. The other appointed commissioner, Barbara Derus, resigned in June, and a new appointee for that slot is likely to be made early in 2013.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388